Photograph: David Heald, © 2018 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

The top art museums in NYC

See our picks for the best art museums in New York presenting the finest in art, from classical to cutting-edge.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
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When it comes to art museums, New York City suffers from an embarrassment of riches, with some of the greatest institutions in the world located right here in Gotham. Among them: The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—the big three of NYC art museums. Each is an iconic destination that draws millions of visitors from all over the globe, and it’s easy to see why.

The Metropolitan Museum, for example, houses 5,000 years of art, with everything from Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman treasures to Renaissance and Impressionist masterpieces. The Met even has fabulous holdings of modern and contemporary objects, though, admittedly, MoMA is the go-to place on that score with what is arguably the most comprehensive collection of 20th- and 21st-century art in the world. The Guggenheim is no slouch when showcasing modern artworks as well, especially its hoard of abstract paintings by Wassily Kandinsky. But the icing on the cake remains the Gugg’s nautilus-shaped home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. With its breathtaking interior rotunda, the Guggenheim is Wright’s only major building here, making it one of the most important structures in New York, if not the entire world.

Yet as amazing as they are, The Met, the Modern and the Guggenheim represent only the tip of the iceberg, as NYC boasts dozens more art museums, spread across the Five Boroughs—including must-see destinations in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. They all have amazing artworks to offer, so if you want to know more, check out our list of top art museums in NYC. And don’t miss out our guide of free museum days and late-night musuems, as well as our recommendations for the 101 very best things to do in NYC.

Top art museums in NYC

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Central Park
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It would take multiple visits to fully appreciate this sprawling–as in 13-acres of Central Park sprawling–collection of over 5,000 years of art from every corner of the world. As one of the biggest museums in the world, the gorgeous late 19th century neo-classical institution displays some of the finest examples of art spanning from mummified royalty of ancient times to avant garde fashion couture from last year’s runway.

Visitors young and old are mesmerized by the Temple of Dendur, an Egyptian temple from 10 B.C. that was transposed from its Nile-side location to the bright, sun-drenched space overlooking a reflective pool. Other highlights include the impressive array of European and Asian armor, Grecian sculptures, medieval art and contemporary photography. After hours of exploring, relax by a fountain in the indoor sculpture garden or ponder what it all means in the Astor Chinese Garden Court, nestled off the Asian Art galleries.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Upper East Side
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While the Guggenheim’s collection of modern artworks is certainly impressive, it is impossible to separate the museum’s contents from its form with architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s brilliant and controversial design. Opened in 1959 on Fifth Ave across from Central Park, just months after Wright’s death, the concrete inverted ziggernaut (a Babylonian step pyramid), stomped on the expectations and tradition of clean square galleries exemplified and cherished by the neighboring Upper East Side museums, like the nearby Metropolitan Museum. Instead Wright combined his use of geometric shapes and nature, to create a gallery space that presented art along a flowing, winding spiral, much like a nautilus shell, with little in the way of walls to separate artists, ideas or time periods.

Best experienced as Wright intended by taking the elevator to the top of the museum and following the gentle slope down, the art is revealed at different angles along the descent and across the open circular rotunda in a way that even the most well-known Monet landscape might seem like a revelation. This unusual, bold way of approaching art, both as it is displayed and viewed, has inspired spectacular exhibits by highly-conceptual contemporary artists such as a series of films by Matthew Barney and hundred of Maurizio Cattelan’s sculptures hanging from the ceiling.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Midtown West
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Considering the MoMA’s reputation for having one of the world’s finest collections of art from the 18th century through today, it’s no surprise that around nearly every corner of the venerated museum hangs a seminal piece by an artist trumpeted in art history or coveted by contemporary collectors.

During the height of tourist season, around Christmas and again in late spring and summer, expect a shoving match just to catch a momentary glance at Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Special exhibitions often have enough draw that some people will wait for hours just for the one exhibit.

Meanwhile, no matter the time of year or temporary display, cash-strapped New Yorkers come in droves at the end of the work-week for Free Fridays (held on the first Friday of the month). If you really want to experience the museum and all it has to offer go on a weekday and buy your all-inclusive ticket online ($25). You’ll skip the line and find yourself unencumbered as you stop to contemplate the meaning of time in front of Salvador Dali’s melted-clock painting The Persistence of Memory or checking out the movie times in the attached theater.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Meatpacking District
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Find the Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District inside a building designed by international starchitect Renzo Piano. Planted at the foot of the Highline along Ganesvoort Street, the Whitney building boasts some 63,000 square feet of both indoor and outdoor exhibition space.

Founded in 1931 by sculptor and art patron Gertrude Vanderbilt, the Whitney is dedicated to presenting the work of American artists. Its collection holds about 15,000 pieces by nearly 2,000 artists, including Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper (the museum holds his entire estate), Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keeffe and Claes Oldenburg.

Still, the museum’s reputation rests mainly on its temporary shows, particularly the exhibition everyone loves to hate, the Whitney Biennial. Held in even-numbered years, the Biennial remains the most prestigious (and controversial) assessment of contemporary art in America.

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  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Prospect Park
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Brooklyn’s premier institution is a less-crowded alternative to Manhattan’s bigger-name spaces, though the innovative and impactful items found inside are just as important as anything you'll find in the city. The museum, found on the edge of the sprawling Prospect Park, has a large holding of Egyptian art as well as the famous feminist piece, The Dinner Party, by Judy Chicago. Works by such Impressionists masters as Cézanne, Monet and Degas are also included in the collection along with with prime examples of Early American Art, period rooms and so much more.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Lenox Hill
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The Frick Collection is now open at The Frick Madison (945 Madison Avenue) while Henry Clay Frick's mansion undergoes a massive renovation. While the Brutalist building by Marcel Breuer is a huge departure from the Gilded Age mansion, the space is offering a much different and rare look at the collection.

The permanent collections include world-class paintings, sculpture and furniture by the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Renoir and French cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Lower East Side
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The New Museum takes its name from The New School, where it originally opened in 1977. After a move to Soho, where the it became a fixture througout the ’80s and ’90s, the New Museum moved into its current location in 2007: A bold, purposed built seven-story building, designed by the cutting-edge Tokyo architectural firm Sejima + Nishizawa/SANAA.

It houses three main gallery levels, a theater, a café operated by Hester Street Fair and roof terraces. As it has throughout its history, the New Musem focuses it program on emerging—and important but under-recognized—artists. 

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Long Island City
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Housed in a distinctive Romanesque Revival building (a former public school), PS1 mounts cutting-edge shows and hosts an acclaimed international studio program. Artwork crops up in every corner, from the stairwells to the roof. PS1 became an affiliate of MoMA in 1999, and sometimes stages collaborative exhibitions. Reflecting the museum’s global outlook, it has focused in recent years on such luminaries as Janet Cardiff and Olafur Eliasson.

It also hosts summer’s popular Warm Up, a long-running outdoor music and art series held in MoMA PS1's courtyard.

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  • Museums
  • History
  • Central Park
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The Jewish Museum, housed in the 1908 Warburg Mansion, mounts temporary exhibitions of contemproary and modern art and also has a substantial collection of artworks of art and Judaica. There is a permanent exhibit specifically for children, as well as a restuarant that includes an Uptown outpost of Russ & Daughters, the iconic Lower East Side purveyors of Kosher delicacies like lox, sable and whitefish.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Upper East Side
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This elegant addition to the city’s museum scene is devoted entirely to late-19th- and early-20th-century German and Austrian fine and decorative arts. Located in a renovated brick-and-limestone mansion that was built by the architects of the New York Public Library, this brainchild of the late art dealer Serge Sabarsky and cosmetics mogul Ronald S. Lauder has the largest concentration of works by Gustav Klimt (including his iconic Adele Bloch-Bauer I) and Egon Schiele outside Vienna.

You’ll also find a bookstore, a chic (and expensive) design shop and the Old World–inspired Café Sabarsky, serving updated Austrian cuisine and ravishing Viennese pastries.

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  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Midtown West
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The Museum of Broadway, which celebrates more than 100 years of theater in New York City, opened its doors in November 2022. Exhibits include costumes, rare documents, photographs, sketches and immersive tributes to popular musicals.

Fittingly, it is situated right between Broadway’s oldest venue, the Lyceum Theatre, and one of the district’s newest hotels, the Hyatt Centric Times Square. Its three floors of displays, which take about 90 minutes to navigate, include beautiful costumes, illuminating documents and photographs, and tasty bursts of detail; other parts of it seem aimed at Broadway newcomers and tourists, including tributes to well-known shows and immersive spaces that call out for selfies. (It also includes a space for temporary exhibits, where sketches from decades of work by the peerless Broadway illustrator Al Hirshfeld are currently on view.)

  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • East Harlem
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Located in East Harlem (a.k.a. El Barrio), El Museo del Barrio is dedicated to the work of Latino artists who reside in the U.S., as well as Latin American masters. The 6,500-piece permanent collection ranges from pre-Colombian artifacts to contemporary installations. The space also features updated galleries, an exposed courtyard for programming and events, and a Pan-Latino cafe that serves tacos, chili, and rice and beans.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Midtown West
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Located in a building originally constructed to house the now defunct Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) features cutting edge examples of ceramics, furniture design, fiber art and metalsmithing, all involving "processes ranging from the artisanal to the digital," as its mission statement put its. As a result, MAD often mounts some of the liveliest shows of contemporary art around. Packed with amazing things to look at, this Columbus Circle spot is definitely worth a visit.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Upper West Side

As its name suggests, the American Folk Art Museum celebrates traditional craft-based work, and the work of the self-taught, including Outsider artists. Its collection ranges from visionary works by Henry Darger and Martin Ramirez to quilts and Early American portrait paintings. AFAM also hosts performances, tours, discussions and other activities for every age.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Chelsea
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This six-story museum (once home to Barneys New York) houses Donald and Shelley Rubin’s impressive collection of Himalayan art and artifacts, as well as large-scale temporary exhibitions.

  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Lenox Hill
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The Asia Society sponsors study missions and conferences while promoting public programs in the U.S. and abroad. The headquarters’ striking galleries host major exhibitions of art culled from dozens of countries and time periods—from ancient India and medieval Persia to contemporary Japan—and assembled from public and private collections, including the permanent Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III collection of Asian art.

A spacious, atrium-like café, with a pan-Asian menu, and a beautifully stocked gift shop make the society a one-stop destination for anyone who has an interest in Asian art and culture.

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  • Museums
  • History
  • Murray Hill
The Morgan Library & Museum
The Morgan Library & Museum

This Madison Avenue institution began as the private library of financier J. Pierpont Morgan and is his artistic gift to the city. Building on the collection Morgan amassed in his lifetime, the museum houses first-rate works on paper, including drawings by Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso; three Gutenberg Bibles; a copy of Frankenstein annotated by Mary Shelley; manuscripts by Dickens, Poe, Twain, Steinbeck and Wilde; sheet music handwritten by Beethoven and Mozart; and an original edition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that’s displayed every yuletide.

A massive renovation and expansion orchestrated by Renzo Piano brought more natural light into the building and doubled the available exhibition space. A theater, Gilder Lehrman Hall, regularly hosts recitals and concerts.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • The Bronx
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Founded in 1971 and featuring more than 1,000 works, this multicultural art museum shines a spotlight on 20th- and 21st-century artists who are either Bronx-based or of African, Asian or Latino ancestry. The museum sporadically offers family programming.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Queens
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Queens Museum
Queens Museum

Located on the grounds of two World’s Fairs, the QM holds one of Gotham’s most amazing sights: The Panorama of the City of New York, a 9,335-square-foot scale model of the five boroughs, created for the 1964 exposition and featuring Lilliputian models of landmarks. 

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Washington Heights
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Set in a lovely park overlooking the Hudson River, the Cloisters houses the Met’s medieval art and architecture collections. A path winds through the peaceful grounds to a castle that seems to have survived from the Middle Ages. (It was built less than 100 years ago, using material from five medieval French cloisters.) Be sure to check out the famous Unicorn Tapestries, the 12th-century Fuentidueña Chapel and the Annunciation Triptych by Robert Campin.

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Chelsea
FLAG Art Foundation
FLAG Art Foundation

This Chelsea institution is dedicated to curated group shows of established and emerging contemporary artists, and is located in an expansive two-floor facility in the ritzy Chelsea Arts Tower.

  • Museums
  • Fashion and costume
  • Chelsea
The Museum at FIT
The Museum at FIT

The Fashion Institute of Technology owns one of the largest and most impressive collections of clothing, textiles and accessories in the world, including some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the 5th century to the present. Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the museum showcases a selection from the permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers or the role fashion plays in society.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Astoria
  • price 1 of 4
The Noguchi Museum
The Noguchi Museum

When sculptor (and landscape architect, and theatrical-set and furniture designer) Isamu Noguchi opened his Queens museum in 1985, he was the first living artist in the U.S. to establish such an institution. It occupies a former photo-engraving plant across the street from the studio he had occupied since the 1960s to be closer to stone and metal suppliers along Vernon Boulevard. The entire building was designed by Noguchi to be a meditative oasis amid its gritty, industrial setting.

Twelve galleries and a garden are populated with Noguchi’s sculptures; also on display are drawn, painted and collaged studies, architectural models, and stage and furniture designs.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Washington Heights

With 750,000 objects, The Hispanic Society Museum & Library boasts the largest assemblage of Spanish art and manuscripts outside Spain. The collection includes many religious artifacts, including 16th-century tombs from the monastery of San Francisco in Cuéllar, Spain. After a six-year, $10-million renovation, the museum's main building reopened in May 2023. Additional renovation work is planned for the museum's East Building. 

The museum features a variety of exhibitions each year. A permanent fixture of the museum, however, is Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida’s Vision of Spain, comprising 14 monumetal oil paintings commissioned by the Society in 1911. Each massive panel reflects a different region of Spain in vivid colors, featuring tuna fishing, bull fighting and an Easter parade, along with objects including oranges and flowers.

The museum, founded by the son of a railroad magnate in the early 1900s, is free to visit. 

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Soho

As it names suggests, The Drawing Center is devoted to exhibiting and promoting works on paper, both historical and contemporary. A Soho stalwart since its founding in 1977, The Drawing Center is as much a museum as it is a gallery, but its wooden floors and cast-iron columns are reminiscent of Soho’s glory days as a gallery district.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Harlem
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When Studio Museum opened in 1968, it was the first black fine-arts museum in the country, and it remains the place to go for historical insight into African-American art and the art of the African diaspora. Under the leadership of director Thelma Golden (formerly of the Whitney), this neighborhood favorite has evolved into the city’s most exciting showcase for contemporary African-American artists.

Note: As of summer 2023, the Studio Museum is currently closed for the construction of its new building.

See the best art museums in America

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